“How does that conversation go, Christian? Look, you’re fired despite doing a great job, but don’t worry, here’s a few bucks!” I spit sarcastically, really annoyed at my husband, who seems to think it’s okay to buy the world into submission.
“Anastasia!” he admonishes, and by his raised brow, I can tell that he’s less than impressed with my deduction. “I did not, in fact, fire him directly. I merely instigated an opportunity for him that I knew he would not pass up, which happened to leave him without the free time for his freelance lessons. So, actually, he went of his own accord.”
My mouth snaps shut, chomping back the rest of the tirade that was sitting on the tip of my tongue. That does make me feel a little bit better; at least poor Matt isn’t walking around thinking he did something wrong. And maybe I did overreact, drawing my own conclusions but still, the motivation behind Christian’s manipulation is uncalled for. Moderating my tone into a more suitable lilt, and with curiosity now burning a hole in my mind, I can’t help but to ask, “Did you do something for his band?”
He gives me a little nod, as if to say that’s better before looking down onto his desk to shuffle some papers into a neater pile, clearly avoiding my inquiring eyes.
“Yes,” he bristles, “if you must know, they’ve scored a gig as the opening act for a Maroon 5 concert.”
Oh wow. Matt must be over the moon. First Dr. Shawn, and now Matt, both expertly taken out of the picture by my overbearing man. I thin my lips, pressing them together in an effort not to giggle. “What are we going to do with you, Mr. Grey?” I quip, shaking my head.
Christian pushes away from his desk to stand and rounds it in a few easy strides. “What are we going to do with me?” he purrs, that low baritone I know so well sending shivers racing all over my skin. “I’ll tell you what we are going to do.” He says we in a way that tells me he really means me.
I can only stare, mesmerized in the face of Dom Christian coming from nowhere. He places both hands on the armrest of my chair and leans in, bringing us almost nose-to-nose. “We,” he rasps again with emphasis, “are going to be a good girl and remember that, where this particular matter is concerned, what I say, goes. You belong to me Anastasia, and thissss,” he hisses, letting his fingers brush over my collar, fixing his slate stare onto mine, “and this,” he cups my breast in his palm, giving it a firm squeeze before sensually sliding his hand down my belly, finally letting it come to rest over the V between my thighs, “and this, is mine.”
Involuntarily I moan and my lids flutter closed as my head falls back, as always, completely ensnared by his smoldering dominance. I want to buck into his touch, this instant arousal already heating the blood in my veins, but instinctively I know that doing so won’t get me anywhere.
“Look at me, baby,” he commands and my eyes fly open, instantly finding that possessive gleam in his gaze. “Are we clear?” Ghosting his lips over mine he teases me with a fleeting taste of a kiss.
“Yes,” I breathe, blinking and pinning my lip between my teeth, flagrantly dropping cues to my desire.
Abruptly he straightens and clasps his hands together with a single clap, jolting me out of his spell. He grins, looking pleased with himself. “Good. I’m glad we got that sorted. Now, Mrs. Grey, let me get back to work so I can properly service my wanton wife later.”
Feeling cheated, I stand in a huff, narrowing my eyes at him for good measure, but his smile only broadens. I try pouting but he laughs, giving me a little off you go wave as I turn to leave.
“Mrs. Grey, didn’t you forget something?” he calls after me, his voice still dripping with a sensuality that few others can pull off.
When I turn back his grin is still in place, but I can see there’s a good dose of naughty behind it. He tilts his head to the side then taps his cheek with his finger, calling me back with a wink for a kiss.
Smiling now, I roll my eyes, knowing full well that I’m looking for trouble as I step back into his personal space. I don’t miss his quirked brow or his gentle growl before I lean in to kiss the spot he indicated, but in the space of a heartbeat he turns his head, and my lips fall on his mouth instead. In a swift, graceful move he dips me low. With my hair almost trailing on the ground he kisses me – soundly, lashing his tongue against mine.
Just as quickly as he started it, he ends it, bringing us upright again. Spinning me around by my shoulders, he sends me out with a firm spank on my ass, making me jump and squeal. “That’s for the rude eye roll at me, Mrs. Grey!” he chuckles.
Exasperating man! I think, still dazed from the kiss as I make my way back to the great room.
Hhmm, sexy man, my inner goddess counters, still swooning.
At least he’s fair, I muse when I see Bianca’s plain face framed by a pair of heavy glasses as she pushes them back into place with her finger, obviously too lost in the world of music to notice anything but the progress of her student, my bright little boy.
She looks so very young, though I’m sure she’s older than her clear, innocent face suggests. They do cut a cute picture though, the pair of them locked onto their task, concentrating, almost like siblings, and, not for the first time, leaving me wondering how the new baby is going to fit into our lives. There are moments when I worry that there won’t be enough love to go around. It’s almost impossible for me to imagine that I can love another child as much as I love Chris, but then again, before he was born I never dreamed that I had the capacity to love him the way I do.
As is typical with worry, one anxious thought leads to another. Tomorrow is my six week checkup with Dr. Malone, making it the first time that we leave Escala since the news of José’s disappearance. It’s an outing that I think Christian is only tolerating because of the nature of the visit. Come to think of it, I’m surprised Christian hasn’t installed a home-based maternity unit yet.
Late afternoon sees me checking my mail and I’m not in the least surprised when I see messages from both Kate and Mia. Kate, especially, is mailing me at least three or four times a day as her hormonal treatments and current lack of work responsibilities leave her with free time to ponder her moods.
From: Kate Grey
Subject: Mad – again…
Date: 5 December 2016 14:56
To: Anastasia Grey
Ana, I swear, if I don’t find something to do I’m either going to climb the walls or rip somebody’s head off. And by somebody I mean Elliot! Why are men so dense? Can you please answer me that question? I’ve made a career out of answering difficult questions, but that one stubbornly remains a mystery. Don’t you just hate when they make a suggestion to a problem that is so blindingly obvious that it’s the first thing you would have considered and then dismissed as an unsuitable solution, and that what you need now is another way? Or why can’t they just shut up and listen? I don’t need him to bring about world peace! Sometimes I just want to get stuff off my chest, you know? Just vent. Say something out loud in order to process it better.
Boys stink! (Except for Chris of course)
Mad as hell,
Wow, she really is on the rampage today. Poor Elliot, no matter what he does, he’s bound to be in permanent trouble for the next few months. I just hope he treats her with the kid gloves her fragile state deserves. As if to prove the wild fluctuations of her frame of mind, her second mail, barely an hour later, is completely different.
From: Kate Grey
Subject: Calm and collected….
Date: 5 December 2016 15:42
To: Anastasia Grey
How is your day going? How is the editing coming on? I bet you’re struggling with the confines of Escala by now, and I can’t even imagine what poor little Chris must be going through. A tower in the sky is hardly an ideal place for a little boy. Do you think Christian would let you go out if you promise to take the entourage? I would love to meet you guys for coffee. Hell, I’d even consider letting you drag me to one of those indoor kiddie play places! It will be good experience for when I finally nail this pregnancy thing. Just a few more days and we can test. I’m excited and nervous and excited… LOL! Call me!
Your stable – for now – friend
I condense my reply to Kate into one mail and promise to look into the possibility of going out. Maybe if our outing to Dr. Malone goes well tomorrow, Christian won’t be so uptight about letting us go out. We definitely can’t be prisoners in Escala for the foreseeable future. As I move on to Mia’s mail I wonder idly whether Christian would consider taking us away for a while, leaving the United States and finding a faraway corner of the world to hide in until Jason bags José, or whoever.
From: Mia Grey
Subject: Ethan and other stuff
Date: 5 December 2016 16:02
To: Anastasia Grey
How is my favorite nephew (and of course his beloved parents) holding up? The extra security that Christian has put into place is driving me bonkers already, but I can’t say that I mind the burly one calling me ma’am. It sorta has a nice ring to it, you know? And he’s very handy to have around when you need an extra hand to carry the shopping. He looks really cute with a stripy pink Victoria’s Secret bag in his big hands. LOL!
Speaking of VS, I have put our plan into motion, and spent some serious cash at aforementioned establishment in an effort to glam up the old lingerie…. *Winks.* Here’s hoping Ethan gets to see it, huh? *Grin.* So now, all I have to do is wait for Saturday to arrive and then… well, let’s hope for the best. Of course the “ideal man” is on cloud nine with my sudden acquiescence to his advances, already I’ve had to fight him off for a pre-date drink. He really is incorrigible, and in the worst possible way! If I have to listen to him list his assets one more time, or hear him tell me what a great catch he is, I might barf on one of his deliberately quirky ties! Yuk! Did I mention that I REALLY hope your plan works because there’s only so much smarmy a girl can take before she succumbs to the lure of the bread knife… Yikes… See? I’m already thinking murder… Mia, in the dining room, with the candlestick… LOL!
Anyway… I was just touching base, letting you know. You better cross your fingers (and maybe your toes), sis, because I think this is our last chance…
I’d love to catch up soon. Let me know when my overprotective brother lets you and my cute nephew out of his sight! Otherwise I’ll just have to drag my butt to you.
I shake my head, giggling. It’s amazing how her personality comes through, even in an e-mail. I can almost hear her talk in her usual hundred-words-a-minute delivery, punctuated with her cute and wacky sense of humor.
After I reply to Mia’s and the rest of my e-mails I go find my boy for some serious mommy-and-son playtime. With us being holed up in the apartment, it’s become more important than ever for me to find exciting things to do with him before he goes stir crazy without playing outside or with friends his own age. It’s times like these that I miss my Savanah neighbor so much. Having someone so close by with a child the same age as yours is a priceless blessing. I wish I could just pick up the phone and make a date, but we’ve not been in Seattle long enough to make play date friends. And I definitely don’t really want to mention it to Christian. Who knows to what lengths he’ll go to find Chris an age appropriate playmate?
Tuesday morning I wake with a start, stunned at the late hour the bedside clock announces. Despite being tired when I finally went to sleep, the first half of my night was restless. I kept dreaming about the scan today and all the possible things that could go wrong with a baby in utero, thanks to the frequent lectures I’m getting from my husband, who now knows more about early baby development than is good for anyone.
Ignorance really is bliss, I think, remembering the very basics I knew when I had Chris, too caught up in the heartbreak of my world to obsess about the growing life in my belly. I simply took his steady and healthy development for granted. Also, knowing how important this baby is to Christian, I can’t help worrying about the consequences for him if things don’t go as smoothly or as perfectly as he wants.
I climb out of bed and stretch, relishing the gentle pull of my muscles, especially my back. All too soon I’ll be uncomfortable all over. For a moment I stand still, waiting for the inevitable pregnancy roil, but with my stomach feeling surprisingly stable, I decide to grab a quick bite before it shows up to spoil my appetite.
Even from the hallway I hear Chris’s excited babble and Christian’s measured tone along with unusual noises coming from somewhere in the great room. It never fails to make me smile, to hear the two of them interact even though I can’t hear what’s being said right now. Christian still makes my jaw drop with his patience and the way my mega CEO can simply be with his boy, easily chatting to Chris on his level without the trappings of his serious role as the solo head of a company, something that I’m sure would weigh another man down.
With curiosity teasing me I step into the vast space, expecting to see them engrossed in some over-the-top boy thing, but the smile falls from my face. They have their backs to me, watching a string of white-coated men wheeling in what looks suspiciously like the equipment you see in an obstetrician’s office.
Oh dear. I spoke too soon. It looks like Escala just became the world’s first apartment with its own fully-fledged maternity ward.
Christian must sense me behind them because he turns, giving me a beaming smile. “And here is the expectant mommy now. Good morning, Mrs. Grey. We’re just getting organized for you.”
“Mommy, Daddy says we’re gonna see a movie of the baby! And hear his heart go boom, boom!” my son informs me, obviously delighted with the idea as he comes to give me a hug.
“Uhm…. Yes,” I can’t but agree, that’s clearly what is going to happen, but how can I not despair at the crazy of it all. Just the expense alone must be insane, and by the looks of it, only the latest and the greatest for my imperious husband. I wonder if Dr. Malone’s exclusive services come with all of this.
Christian slips an arm around my waist and kisses that melting spot just below my ear. “See?” he drawls, oblivious to my shock. “Now we have everything we need right here. We can check on the baby whenever we like.”
“Uh-huh,” I mumble, still too stunned to speak. If he puts me on bed rest I’m going to lose my patience with him. Can’t he see that this borders on insane?
His hand moves to my belly, gently rubbing the still-flat plane as he speaks to tiny blip. “Only the best for you, little one. I can’t wait to hear your heartbeat!”
My irritation gives way to indulgence. He is just so excited about this little bean. The last thing I can be is surprised, really. The thought of this very thing crossed my mind last night. This is so typically Christian, and with something as big as his unborn baby’s life, this is probably him holding back. Maybe I should be grateful for that. “Is Dr. Malone also moving in with us?” I quip, only half-joking as I watch the guys disappear into a spare room to set up the equipment.
Christian snorts. “Don’t be silly,” he chuckles, as if I’m the one with the ludicrous ideas. “We have a midwife cum pediatric nurse who’ll come in to do a checkup once a week, over and above the checks that Dr. Malone will do. She’ll also be on call for us for the duration of the pregnancy, and if you like, after the birth.”
Oh yes, I’m the one with the outrageous ideas, I think, only shaking my head at Christian’s over-the-top plans for our prenatal care. “You remember that I’ve done this before, right?” Ruffling Chris’s hair I eye my husband, not holding out too much hope that he’ll get how off-the-wall he’s being.
“Safety first,” he growls gently on a frown, giving me a look that says I ain’t getting my way on this one. “Now, be a good girl and eat something before Dr. Malone gets here.”
It’s my turn to snort. She may not be moving in but it seems the esteemed doctor will be making private house calls just for us.
With a knock on Chris’s bedroom door, Christian comes to fetch us when Dr. Malone is settled into the new “hospital wing” of our apartment. Still looking very happy with himself, my man leads me by the hand to the doc whilst carrying his son on his hip. “Will we see my brover now?” Chris chirps, eager to get his first glimpse of the baby.
Christian and I both smile. “I hope so, buddy, but I don’t want you to be disappointed. The baby might be a little girl and when a baby is still as small as this,” I hold up my thumb and index finger, indicating a tiny gap the size of a rice grain, “all you can see on the movie is a black blob!”
“What’s a blob, Mommy?” he asks, looking perplexed.
Smiling, I tickle his tummy. “Hhhmm… you know those black jelly beans that you like so much?”
“Uh-huh,” he squeals, giggling and squirming in Christian’s arm.
“That’s what the baby will look like for now, until the bean develops arms and legs.”
His eyes grow as big as saucers as he gasps, clasping his hand over his mouth. “The baby is an alien?”
This time, Christian and I laugh. “Silly! The baby isn’t an alien.” Christian explains, tickling Chris’s tummy again. “He, or she,” he gives me a quick look before turning back to his son, “still needs to grow a head, and arms, and legs.”
Chris nods but he looks no less dubious when we walk into our very own doctor’s room. Dr. Malone greets us with a huge beam, and I’m relieved to see that if the house call bothers her, it doesn’t show. “Ana, Christian,” she greets before turning her attention to our boy. “Oh, and this must be Chris, the little boy who is about to become big brother, huh?” With a playful seriousness she shakes his hand as we echo her warmth with our own hellos.
“Yes,” he tells her dryly, “but I don’t want an alien!”
Again we have to fight our giggles. “Okay then,” she agrees mildly. “I’ll see what I can do. Why don’t you help Daddy get Mommy a glass of water and I’ll get Mommy ready, okay?” I’m relieved at her foresight. Having an internal scan is unpleasant enough, and though I don’t believe in sheltering children too much from the realities of life, I’d prefer both my son and my husband to be spared the clinical side of what needs to be done in order to see the baby at this early stage of development.
While she gets me sorted we make small talk about how I’m feeling and getting on with the pregnancy. When my guys return, we’re all set. She directs them to my head so we can all look at the screen.
“Okay, so today we’ll measure the crown-rump length to determine the fetal age,” she pauses, and zeros in on Chris. “That just means that we’ll see how old the baby is and, if we’re really quiet, we might hear the baby’s heartbeat!” she enthuses, giving him a friendly wink. Of course my sappy hormonal self just melts at how good she’s being with him and how cute my little boy is.
I feel her adjust the wand and then we see it, a triangular snowy shape with a black blob in the middle. “Phew,” she says, keeping her eye on the picture. “You are one lucky big brother. I can tell you it’s definitely not an alien.”
“Yay!” Chris cheers, staring at the screen with narrowed eyes to see what she sees.
“Yay indeed! You have a one hundred percent human brother or sister, just like you!” Again she gives him a big smile, and I see him relax, back on board with the baby wagon. My husband, in contrast, seems to be in another world altogether. Oblivious to the game the doc and Chris are playing, he stares at the screen, mesmerized.
When Sharon cops Christian’s trance she moves things along, piping down for the main event of this scan. “Okay, let’s all be nice and still now, you can’t always hear it this early but maybe we’re lucky,” she breathes, gently manipulating the tracking ball with her fingers.
Christian is gripping my hand, his fingers curled around mine in a death clutch as his eyes dart between the screen and the doctor. I can tell that he’s holding his breath, eyes growing larger with every second that passes. For what feels like long minutes we don’t hear a thing, until I become aware of the faint rhythmic sound.
My husband is still motionless and breathless, clearly not wanting anything to interfere with the fast drum of our baby’s heart as it fills the quiet room. Finally, on a sharp breath, his face cracks with a beatific smile. “That’s just….” He shakes his head, beaming as he searches for words that he’s lost in the midst of his utter joy. “That’s amazing!” he whispers in a throaty voice that betrays every inch of his emotion.
I return his hand squeeze, watching his overcome face as he loses himself in the miracle of the life that we created together. “It is,” I agree softly, “absolutely wonderful.”
“To think there’s a baby inside of you, a life, that we put there, and hearing the heartbeat, the confirmation of that life…” Again his words fade as he comes to grips with the fantastic marvel that is human procreation.
“Is beautiful,” I murmur, completing his sentence. I know just how he feels. The first time I heard Chris’s I think the drum of mine matched his fetal heart’s beat. Yes, my own heart was broken at the time, but the miracle of it all made it very real for me in that moment.
“And, judging by the rate, 98 beats per minute, perfectly healthy.” Dr. Malone’s words soothe away the anxiety I felt about the scan today and it’s all been worth it, seeing my husband in rapture like that.
Christian leans in and kisses my cheek, his eyes warm with adoration. “Thank you,” he breathes. When he comes away from his kiss he bathes me with a reverential look as he replies to the doctor. “That’s great news. Can we confirm the fetal age?”
“Yep, let’s have a look.” She taps a few buttons, measuring away. “Not that this is an exact science, but according to this calculation we are spot on with six weeks today.” Resting her hands in her lap she gives us a pleased smile and my exasperating, overbearing, sexy man turns to me with the world’s smuggest smirk, the knowledge that he nailed it the first time bringing him almost as much joy as hearing his baby’s strong heartbeat.
*Thank you to Susan for the midwifery info.
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